Saturday, February 13, 2010

Running Resume--February 2010


Kevin S.L.J. Sawchuk

First Ultra:

Mountain Masochist 50M, Lynchburg, VA 10/21/95 8:20, 10th place


Number of Ultras: 107

Number of Wins 32

Number of Marathons 18

Number of Marathon Wins 03

John Muir Trail Record 93:05

Sierra High Route 8 day

Winner 1999-2000 No. California Grand Prix

Pacific Association USATF Ultrarunner of the year 2000

Best Times:

1mile (training, never raced distance) 4:55

5K 16:39

10K (split in ¼ marathon) 34:42

10M (training run) 56:58

13.1M (split in marathon) 1:16:48

Marathon (two times under 6:00/mile pace) 2:37:02

50K 3:23:30

50M 5:44:48

100K (trail race) 9:00:42

100M (Western States) 18:48:20

100 Mile Races

1996 Western States 21:53 23nd

1997 Massanutten 20:05 2nd

1997 Angeles Crest 20:21 3rd

1998 Wasatch 21:25 4th

1999 Western States 19:24 7th

1999 Angeles Crest 22:20 4th

2000 Western States 18:55 8th

2001 Western States 20:28 18th

2002 Western States 18:48 10th

2003 Western States 21:12 29th

2004 Western States 19:03 13th

2005 Western States 20:34 31st

2007 Western States 21:35 34th

2009 Western States 23:24 57th

Full Listing of Races (Selected non-ultras)


Las Trampas 50K January 6 7:15 2nd


CIM December 6 3:00

Le Parcour de Wild October 11-16 1st team

Markleville Death Ride July 11 9:18 (elapsed)

Western States 100M June 27 23:24 57th

Eastern Sierra Double 200 (bike) June 6 12:27 (elapsed)

Ohlone 50K May 31 5:30

Davis Double 200 (bike) May 16 12:42 (elapsed)

MiWok 100K May 2 11:04 50th

Devil Mountain Double 200 (bike) April 18 15:37 (elapsed)

Lake Sonoma 50M March 28 8:48 8th

Las Trampas 50K February 14 7:11 2nd


CIM December 7 2:59

Western States 100M CANCELLED

Ohlone 50K May 18 5:20 2nd

Mi-Wok 100K May 3 10:34 30th

Las Trampas 50K March 1 6:37 1st


Western States 100M June 23 21:35 34th

Ohlone 50K May 20 5:01 6th

Diablo 50M (sick) April 29 11:02 14th

Way To Cool 50K March 10 4:23 35th

Las Trampas 50K February 24 6:35 1st


Black Hills 100K April 29 13:59 1st

American River 50M April 1 7:32 22nd

Napa Marathon March 5 2:56 17th

Las Trampas 50K February 11 6:43 1st

Jed Smith 50K February 4 3:56 6th


Mt. Diablo 13.1 M November 1:28 1st

Sierra High Route 200M (solo) August 20-29 168:55 Fastest time

Western States 100M June 25 20:34 31st

What Mi-Wok 100K April 30 10:04 20th

Mt. Diablo 50M April 16 9:37 3rd

Way to Cool 50K March 12 4:08 9th

Purisma Creek 50K February 5 5:01 9th

Las Trampas 50K February 12 6:45 1st


Hunter S. Thompson 50K December 11 4:24 2nd

John Muir Trail (solo) July 31-August4 93:05 Trail Record

Western States 100 M June 26 19:03 13th

Quicksilver 50M May 8 7:34 5th

American River 50M April 3 6:46 3rd

Coyote Ridge 50K March 21 4:35 1st CR

Way to Cool 50K March 13 4:01 10th

Las Trampas 50K February 14 6:02 1st

Epiphany 53K January 10 4:37 1st

2003 (knee surgery)

Hunter S. Thompson 50K December 13 4:32 1st

Dick Collins 50M October 11 7:31 3rd

Marin Headlands 50K national champs. August 4:21 12th

Skyline 50K August 4:03 2nd

Western States 100M June 21:12 23rd

Quicksilver 50M May 7:42 2nd


Quadruple Dipsea November 30 4:26 4th

Firetrails/Dick Collins 50M October 12 7:04 1st

Marin Headlands 50K National Champs. August 24 4:11 10th

Western States 100M June 29 18:48 10th

Ohlone 50K May 4:38 1st

Quicksilver 50K May 4:06 2nd

Napa Marathon March 3 2:44 6th

Las Trampas 50K February 6:13 1st

Mt. Diablo Ascent January 1 1:43 2nd


California International Marathon December 2 2:48 50th

Western States 100M June 20:28 18th

American River 50M April 6:25 3rd

Way to Cool 50K March 3:47 4th

Las Trampas 50K February 17 5:59 1st- CR

Epiphany 50K January 6 4:14 1st (tie)


Quadruple Dipsea November 25 4:05 1st

Mt. Diablo Fall 50K October 21 5:18 1st

Skyline 50K August 6 4:13 7th

Western States 100M June 24 18:55 8th

Ohlone Wilderness 50K May 21 5:35 3rd

Silver State 50K May 20 5:17 1st

Quicksilver 50K May 13 4:16 6th

Mi-Wok 100K May 6 9:23 6th

American River 50M April 1 7:18 15th

GNC 100K March 25 DNF

Way to Cool March 11 3:49 3rd

Las Trampas 50K February 19 6:17 1st-CR

Jed Smith 50k February 12 3:23 1st

Henry Cowell “Secret” 50K January 22 4:55 1st

Epiphany 49K January 8 3:49 1st—CR

Mt. Diablo Ascent 13.1 January 1 1:42 1st


Walnut Creek Canal 50k December 26 3:41 1st

Quadruple Dipsea November 27 4:16 2nd

Helen Klein 50M November 13 5:44 2nd

Sierra Nevada Endurance 52.2 October 23 8:25 4th

Lake Tahoe Marathon October 10 2:51 1st

Angeles Crest 100M September 25 22:23 4th

Headlands 50K August 28 4:05 1st—CR

Mt. Diablo 100K/50M August 14 ?? ??

Skyline 50K August 1 3:52 1st

Western States 100M June 26 19:24 7th

Forest of Niscene Marks 26.2 June 5 3:10 1st

Ohlone 50K May 16 4:37 1st

Quicksilver 50M May 8 7:24 2nd

What Mi-Wok 100K May 1 9:18 2nd

American River 50M April 10 6:57 23rd

Las Trampas 50K February 6 6:43 1st

Home Depot 13.1M January 31 1:18

Forest of Niscene Marks 50K January 23 4:09 2nd

Epiphany 48M January 9 6:48 1st

Mt. Diablo Ascent 13.1 January 1 1:40 1st


California International Marathon December 6 2:37

Napa 50K November 7 4:12 1st

Lake Tahoe Marathon October 11 2:51 1st

Wasatch Front 100M September 12 21:27 4th

Skyline 50K August 2 3:56 2nd

San Francisco Marathon July 12 2:44 8th

That Dam Run 50K June 13 3:55 2nd

What Mi-Wok 100K May 2 9:00 2nd

American River 50M April 4 6:21 7th

Napa Valley Marathon March 1 2:41 9th

Forest of Niscene Marks 50K January 24 4:05 1st

Las Trampas 50K January 17 6:22 1st

Epiphany 47K (51Krun) January 10 4:18 1st

Mt Diablo Ascent 13.1 January 1 1:46 1st


Dick Collins 50M October 11 8:14 13th

Angeles Crest 100M September 27 20:23 3rd

Prince William Forest 50K-course2 August 3 3:31 2nd

Prince William Forest 50K-course1 August 2 3:53 1st

Massanutten Mountain 100M May 17 20:05 2nd

Dogwood 50K April 26 5:19 5th

Boston Maratho n April 21 2:37 83rd

Hinte Anderson 50K March 29 3:43 2nd

Uhwharrie Trail 40M February 8 6:40 2nd

Disney Marathon January 5 2:53

Prince William Forest 50K January 1 4:12 1st


Bull Run—Fat Ass 50K December 14 4:58 1st

Potomac Heritage 50K (35miles) November 9 4:33 3rd

Marine Corps Marathon October 27 3:12

Mountain Masochist 50M October 19 7:37 5th

Twin Cities Marathon October 6 2:46

Dances with Dirt 100K September 7 10:07 2nd

Western States 100M June 28 21:53 23rd

Holiday Lake 50K June 15 3:56 5th

Bull Run Run 50M April 20 8:17 ?8th

Boston Marathon April 15 3:12


Schweitzers Deleware Marathon December 10 3:09

Mountain Masochist 50M October 21 8:20 10th


I'm consolidating some posts from another blog here:

Trans Sierrra Double 3/2007
The 110 mile double trans-Sierra crossing is done. It was a very warm weekend that translated into very mushy snow which significantly slowed my progress. I started Friday morning and had to carry my skiis over melted out sections of the Tioga Road for only 1/3 of a mile though I did walk (very carefully) on the road for a few shorter sections.

The first 19 miles are generally uphill and by the time I hit the first downhill the snow was so mushy I had to keep my skins (things that attach to the bottom of skins that aid in grip on the snow--think velour with glue) on going downhill! Obviously my planned 4-5 mile per hour avergae pace was much slowed as it counted on zooming 10-15 MPH downhill! After 12 hard hours I had covered only 30 miles and dug my snow trench to sleep in for the night.

Morning saw a solid re-freeze and I was able to make pretty good time to where my sister Heather had skied 18 miles to meet me in Tuolumne Meadows. We elected to ski the ridge below Cathedral Peak and had a wonderful time. We camped in the meadow in cozy snow trenches.

I got up early to take advantage of the hard snow and averaged 5 MPH until nearly 1pm. After a long lunch (to patch blisters and dry out clothes and sleeping bag) it was a 2.5 MPH slog through slushy snow (inner tube and rubber ducky anyone?) up to Crane Flat. A 36 mile day got me to camp and a final 13 miles on Monday morning got me back to the truck before 11am. Thank goodness for another freeze!

It remains to be seen how delaying heavy running mileage affects Western States. My Wednesday night tempo run was aerobically harder than it should have been but I kept up 5:55 pace for the 8 miles.

We did a "double Diablo" Saturday--32 miles and 8500' of gain--and the time was good and effort didn't feel too bad. Now the more heavy running weeks begin in earnest. Hopefully I'm well rested and able to hammer for 10 weeks!

Zion and Bryce 4/07
Some of my favorite training runs have been exploring new places on long runs. I've done a Grand Canyon double crossing (46 miles) and run to the top and back of Muana Loa in Hawaii (40 miles to 13,000'!) as part of training. It fits well with my interests to see the outdoors while getting in a good run. Running on new and difficult trails are never as fast as running familiar paths, but I really love what I get to see and the experiences I have.

Last week our family was on spring vacation and visited Zion and Bryce National Parks. This was another perfect time for exploring two National Parks on trail runs. In Zion I paid for a shuttle but to take me from the lodge to Lee Pass in the Kolob Canyon area in the north. I ran the 36 miles back to the lodge in just under 10 hours (plus another 5 to visit Kolob Arch, Angel's Landing, and the Emerald Pools). The new green leaves, sandstone cliffs, panoramic views, and rivers made for an excellent day. I got a lot of pictures and really saw the backcountry geology and topography. I also found a short slot canyon (1/4 mile) on my run and took my family back to slither through it a couple of days later.

We then drove up to Bryce and I did a 37 mile run from the lodge in the north to Rainbow point in the south (plus the Riggs Canyon loop) and saw the (somewhat less spectacular) features of the Bryce backcountry. I was able to meet my family so didn't need to scoop water from any of the streams and was resupplied with Dr. Pepper, fruit leather, and Butterfinger bars. Mmmmmmm.

The week was capped by a late season snowstorm that trimmed the hoodoos of Bryce with Christmas decoration and made for some great family snowball fights. With six year old twins and a twelve year old a snowstorm makes for some pretty good entertainment!

I'd encourage you to get out and explore a National Park, Forest Service land, or Wilderness on a long run. Heck, even a fastpacking weekend can make for great training. There is nothing like the experience of surrounding yourself with nature's grandeur and knowing that there are few with the fitness to finish your trip in 3 days!

Sick/Skiing/Shasta/Ohlone 50K 6/07
Since the National Park Training Plan, I got some sort of 2 week flu which kind of blew my Mt. Diablo 50M race. I've run the 13,000' gain course in just over 9 1/2 hours, but his year it took 11 thanks to stomach problems that started a couple of miles beyond the starting line. I've tried to convince myself that the mandatory slow pace was something good as I didn't trash my legs. We'll see how this plays out.

I left right after the race (literally 2 hours later) for a three day ski trip in Northern Yosemite. I was dragging and fatigued the first day, neutral on the second and strong on the third. My ski partner and I (chief of neurology and my "boss"--how cool it that!) had good snow, though the ascent of the trail-less Little Slide Canyon was quite a challenge until we hit snow. Imagine 170cm skis with boots attached sticking out of your pack while you ascend a fir and manzanita covered canyon. The snow about 8000' was a BIG relief.

Ohlone 50K went well--I finished the 8500' gain course in 5 hours--somewhat off my still standing course record of 4:39. I've got to be honest about that "course record". The course was changed in 2001 and Dave Scott's much faster times on the shorter course are still the "real" course record.

I had a very satisfying Memorial Day training weekend. We ran 51 on Saturday--Robinson to Driver's Flat in about 9 running hours. The elapsed time was over 10 hours due to a 30 minute stop in Foresthill for soup, ice cream, and ice cold Dr. Pepper and a 20 minute swim in the American River near the finish. We ran 22 on Sunday--Sliger Mine Rd. to the finish which took under 4 hours. A 55 mile bike ride on Monday finished out the peak training week.

Last weekend three of us climbed Mt. Shasta and it's sister cone Shastina (via left of heart route, Whitney Glacier, Cascade Valley) in a day. With lightweight gear, Kahtoolas and running shoes it took just over 5 hours from the parking lot to the summit. On Sunday we ran in Castle Crags state Park. I surprised "the boys"--Lee McKinley and Troy Howard--with the 4th class ascent of Castle Dome in the middle of our run. Those trails were sweeeeet and just asking to be hammered! Hammer we did!

Now it's time for some heat! Since the weather isn't cooperating I've pulled out the heavy winter tights, shirt, jacket, and ski hat and hit the sauna. Today's sauna visit (40 minutes at 170F) was pretty miserable but with the jumping jacks, yoga, bench step ups hopefully there will be some carryover for the presumed heat of Western States. We're doing a double afternoon descent (with one ascent) of Mt. Diablo with full winter gear in the mid-80's temperatures tomorrow to help with the heat and keep the legs ready for Western States loooooong quad-trashing descents. Usually I'd do a double Diablo (32 miles, 8000' gain) but this is the year of easier training! I'll probably do my double Diablo on a bike on Sunday.

Hopefully I can keep down the energy sapping anxiety that usually starts two weeks before Western States (or any long/important race) and peaks with a night of poor sleep the night before the race. Thank the gods when the gun goes off!!

Western States July 2007
Western States is done and with my 9th finish I'm all teed up for my tenth silver finish. The goal of 10 finishes has weighed heavily on me since I embarked upon it after my 5th or 6th finish. It sometimes seems like I'm running two or three Western States (with the thoughts of races and years to come) on race day. I'm happy I achieved my goals--have fun, run as fast as I comfortably could, get my 9th finish, and be uninjured, but I'm disappointed I didn't set my goals higher.

I've semed to have lost some motivation to train and race hard. Perhaps it's the increased family or work demands, or a lesser importance that comes after 12 years of hard racing. However, with less committment comes less reward. I find that running serves as a metaphor for my life and that when I'm a bit down on running, my life doesn't look so good either. I either need to find a different metaphor to live by or find the motivation to commit more to ultrarunning.

Andy Jones-Wilkins recent 4th at WS 100 and win at the Vermont 100 has temporarily filled me with motivation to "train hard or go home". Hopefully I'll continue to find the inspiration to make long-distance running a motivating part of my life.

Outdoor Techniques 10/07
I'm recently back from a week long advanced trekking course in Montana's snowy and cold Autumn. We practiced some very advanced techniques of navigation and lightweight travel. The map we were given was low resolution (1:100,000K), devoid of trails, lake and peak names, and had a third of the area whited out. The idea of "white space mapping" is to triangulate prominent points off of your map from known areas and use them to establish location (again by triangulation) in the whited out areas of the map. Travel is determined primarily by what you see in the field and not what is on the map.

We traveled very light--I never carried more than 25# despite temperatures in the low 20s. This included clothing worn, the absolutely necessary snowshoes, tent and food. We cooked over wood fires using a specialty titaniuim stove called the caldera cone and started our fires with flint and steel.

It's very different than running an ultra where the course is marked every 1/4 mile with a ribbon and supplies are available hourly at aid stations. It's an experience that brings you much closer to the outdoors and wilderness ideal. Grizzley bear tracks crisscrossing our path in the snow gave a strong argument for humility.

My fitness as an ultrarunner was powerfully apparant. I climbed ridges and peaks after the group arrived at camp to triangulate our position. I was able to hike ahead of the group and scout route options. Usually these were good ones............

If any fit ultrarunner is interested in a more wilderness focused outdoor experience, I offer my experience to help them acquire the gear and techniques needed to enjoy this type of trip.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hardrock Summary

I finished a week of fastpacking including nearly all of the Hardrock 100 course and then 70 miles on the Colorado Trail into Durango.  I had rain every day ranging from 15 minutes to 7 hours.  These were major afternoon storms that lasted into the evening.  On the last night there was a 4 hour lightening and thunderstorm that kept me awake until 2am.

The course is tough with 33,000' of gain (nearly 2x WS100).  It follows trails as clear as major dirt roads to as minor as a line of course markers through the willows.  It averages 11,200' of elevation and only drops below 10,000' four times.  There are three somewhat technical cross country passes and the course ascends to the top of Handies Peak at 14,048'.

Most of your time is spent above timberline and aid stations can be 8-9 miles apart (and on the tougher sections this could be 3-4 hours).  You'll have wet feet much of the time--especially if it rains but multiple stream crossings, mud and snow sections and wet flowers/plants will keep them wet even if it's clear.  The wildflowers are outstanding.

Fastpacking the course (little running) took 48 hours of moving time over 3.5 days.  I lost a pound per day as I only ate 4000 calories daily and burned 7500.  I started at 3pm Saturday, August 2 and covered only 11 miles/5000' gain before dark (8:45pm).  The next two days were better:  I was able to cover around 30 miles and 8000' of gain (not including catching a 1mile then 3 mile ride on two fairly dull road sections) each day.  I hiked from 6:15am to around 8pm each day.  I stopped for a 15-30 minute breakfast, but just kept hiking through lunch as the weather generally wasn't conducive to stopping.  The final day was the toughest.  Bad weather, difficult passes, route finding challenges and unrelenting climb/descend cycles had me cover only 22 miles but 10,000' of gain!  Clearly the last 25 miles in the CCW direction or first 25 in the CW direction are the toughest.  If I chose I'd want to do the race in the CW direction (it changes direction each year).  

The trip into Durango on the Colorado Trail was much more tame.  I averaged 31 miles per day but had only around 4000' of gain each day.  The trail was fairly well defined and marked.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sequoia/King's Canyon Backpacking-with Emergency

Part of the challenge and the appeal of backpacking is being ready for the unexpected. As backpackers, we chose equipment for the conditions we’re likely to encounter, build in a safety margin, and accept the responsibility remote terrain demands. As skill levels increase the safety margin can be provided more by knowledge and less by weighty gear. Planning a trip requires an honest evaluation of your own skill level and that of your group. What is your fitness? Who isn’t comfortable with class III cross country? Does someone have a medical condition that may influence their abilities? Can you pick a safe route through rough terrain and will you backtrack to avoid scrambling that is over your head? A leader needs to continually reassess his group on a trip. Who didn’t sleep well and can’t hike 20 miles today? Whose “bum knee” is acting up? You need to know your route, have contingencies to cut a trip short, and know what emergency services are available at any trailhead to which you might evacuate. You should consider your route in relationship to weather, seasonal snow pack, and elevation. Can you expect to go cross country at 7500’ when you know man eating manzanita grows on south slopes at this elevation? Will you be able to cross a river in the afternoon on the third week of July when the watershed is still full of snow? The longer and more remote the trip, the more detailed the planning should be.

This is the story of a serious illness in a remote part of the Sierra Nevada. It has a happy ending largely because of advanced planning, the group’s level of fitness, experience, and lightweight ethic. In retrospect, there may have been other steps that could have improved the outcome further. It gives an example of a commitment to self rescue and the decisions that led to this possibility.

It started out well enough. Four excited people out for an 80 mile, four day trip in King’s Canyon. All of us had prior backpacking experience and were in good shape from running ultramarathons. Lee, who sells medical equipment, was in peak shape for a 100 mile race a few weeks later and had been on several backpack trips earlier in the season. Jeff, busy putting together computer network deals, hadn’t been running as much and was on his first backpack trip in several years. Jackie, Jeff’s wife, also hadn’t backpacked in years, but had been running and hiking with a pack to get ready. They had arranged grandparent babysitting so they could enjoy the trip together. As the leader, I’ve spent more than 1000 nights on backpack trips. One month earlier I had run the 223 mile John Muir Trail in just under four days and was looking for a tough trip but one where I’d actually get to enjoy the mountains. I’m comfortable with long trail days, unroped class IV cross country, solo backpacking, and navigation. As a physician I’m familiar with the medical conditions unique to high elevation travel. I carry a 6oz “prescription strength” first aid kit to match.

Our loop was to include dramatic high mountain cross country on the first northerly miles of the unofficial “Timberline Route”. It would join and head south on the John Muir Trail with a final night’s camp at Rae Lakes. On the final day we would cross Glen Pass and return to King’s Canyon down Bubb’s Creek. I was especially looking forward to the Rae Lakes camp. When I ran through Rae Lakes a month earlier I enjoyed brief glimpses of evening colors on the steep headwall called the “Painted Lady” and could sense the tranquil, moist, still, and cool evening air. But I had to run on into the darkness of Wood’s Creek and missed being part of that stillness and beauty. On this trip I promised to fully surrender to the evening I had missed at Rae Lakes. It was a promise which I would not be able to keep.

We began a little later than planned at Cedar Grove and began the 11 mile, 6000’ climb to Kennedy Pass. A slightly slower than expected pace and late start had us arrive at Kennedy Pass two hours later than planned. Because of the delay and reports that Pine ridge trail was blocked with multiple fire downed trees we elected to go cross country to Granite Pass via Volcanic Lakes. The class II/III scrambling slowed us again and it was just before dusk when we crossed the trail at Granite Pass and camped at Lake 10,785. Everyone was tired but in good spirits.

The second day started by breaking camp quickly and hiking 1 ½ hours. We had breakfast and coffee at the view-rich tarn atop Glacier Pass. By late morning crossing the State Lakes valley, Jeff was feeling more worn out than he should and his fingers were swelling. He didn’t feel especially short of breath or have a headache and his appetite was good. He told me of a prior elevation problem, and he declined using Diamox. We continued a good pace despite a long lunch and swim at Horseshoe Lakes. Our crossing of White Pass was slowed when we crossed the ridge 600’ too high and descend a steep talus/scree gully. We carefully descended two by two (on opposite sides of the gully) to a small fork of Cartridge Creek. As we ascended toward Grey Pass Jeff really began to lag. Despite our intention to cross Grey and Red Passes and camp at Marion Lake (10,300’) we stopped short at 11,200’ in a lovely meadowed bowl complete with trickling stream, glacial polished granite kitchen, and sandy tent sites.

By the third morning it was clear that Jeff was really sick. He hadn’t slept the night before due to feeling he had the flu and an upset stomach. He felt dizzy, was unable to concentrate, and had a haggard look. He was lagging well behind the group and reported feeling short of breath. His lungs sounded clear when I pressed my ear against his back on top of Grey Pass and he answered coherently. His feet and fingers were swollen. We forced coffee and oatmeal on him at Marion Lake, but even a long rest didn’t restore him. He took a small dose of Diamox at Marion Lake but continued to feel miserable. It was on the way up Cartridge Creek, that his pace dropped and he had to stop and rest to catch his breath every 2-3 minutes. I made a diagnosis of acute mountain sickness with possible early pulmonary edema. We were now about as far away from a trailhead as we could be. It was time to carefully consider our options and try to get out on our own.

High altitude illness is better avoided than treated. Slow elevation gain—typically less than 2000’ per day once over 8000’—can help prevent the problem. Once an altitude illness develops, the best treatment is descent to lower elevation. Even as little as 2000’ of descent can improve symptoms significantly. Medications can help prevent and treat these illnesses, but generally aren’t available as a prescription is required. Although I did have Diamox available, Jeff hadn’t wanted it the second day when he first became sick. He was now vomiting and so couldn’t absorb any we gave him. This made descent our only realistic option. The most immediate way to lose elevation would be to descend Cartridge Creek to the Middle Fork of the King’s River and exit at Wishon Reservoir. This would get us low quickly, but make us dependant on getting a ride back to our cars and to the hospital if Jeff’s condition didn’t improve. It was also a 40 mile trip. A shorter option was to cross Cartridge Pass, descend into the South Fork of the King’s River, cross Taboose Pass and drop to Highway 395 on the east side of the Sierras. For this option we would need to climb two 12,000’ passes and would again be dependant on getting a 250 mile ride back to our cars from a no telephone trailhead. Pre-trip planning had a Wood’s Creek exit as an option to shorten the trip, but this again would involve crossing two 12,000’ passes and significant mileage. The final option was to cross Cartridge Pass (12,000’ but now only 2 miles away) and continue down the South Fork of the King’s. This would give us one high pass but would let us drop quickly and permanently below 9000’ and get us back to our own cars. The main disadvantage was the lack of a trail down the canyon. Looking at the topographic map I could envision the giant talus and overgrowth likely to be present in a narrow 3000’ deep canyon. There was a risk taking a sick person down this route but it was the shortest option, would get us permanently to low elevation and back to our cars. We decided it was our best option.

As the three of us divided up the contents of Jeff’s pack we were glad we were traveling light!! With heavier packs, it would have been much harder to help him as much. I assigned Lee to “pace” Jeff as I noticed that Jackie was more sympathetic towards Jeff and was less likely to encourage forward progress and regular intake of food and fluid. Jeff vomited several times while crossing Cartridge Pass, but remained coherent and able to hike slowly. He did not report a headache but just wanted to sleep. Once over Cartridge Pass we reassigned Jackie to take care of Jeff’s while Lee and I descended to Lake 10,860 to have soup ready for Jeff to eat when he arrived.

Jeff ate little at our lunch stop and slept for two hours. He felt little better as we continued to descend to the South Fork of the King’s. When we arrived we left the trail and initially followed easy cross country through the pine forest duff. Then the canyon narrowed and we began to climb over car to cabin size talus and wade through dense Aspen and Willow saplings. We scheduled a 5 minute rest for every 20 minutes of hiking and encouraged Jeff to eat. However jelly-beans were all he could keep down. When Jeff reported feeling dizzy and unable to concentrate and began stumbling in the dense undergrowth, I became concerned that it might not be safe for him to continue. In full view of the narrowing canyon we came to a wide granite shelf I felt might be the last place that would allow a helicopter landing. I laid out the options to Jeff in certain terms: keep hiking or stop here and let Lee and me hike out and call in a helicopter. Jeff was unwilling to surrender and drew on his experience pushing through misery as an ultrarunner. He rallied for an additional two miles for a late camp at 8800’ and dinner in the dark. He was able to help set up camp and even kept down a small part of dinner.

Overnight the low camp elevation effected its treatment. Jeff, while not back to normal, showed his bravado by yelling us out of bed at 6am. He was able to eat a decent breakfast and keep up the jocular banter characteristic of our trips first days. With less worry about Jeff, the amazing beauty of the canyon became apparent. It was a snaking granite causeway never more than ¼ mile wide with 4000’ vertical to the peaks high on both sides. The walls were sculpted in turrets and spires with talus fields littering the bottom as an afterthought. The riverbed usually allowed for the fastest progress and was replete with small falls and pools. This would have been a much more difficult trip if it hadn’t been September in a low snow year. A dipper served as our guide down nearly ½ mile of the canyon and several small falls cascaded from the cliffs above. It more than made up for the missed night at Glen Lakes.

As the day progressed and our elevation continued to decline, Jeff returned fully to normal. We arrived at the cars, bathed quickly, and began the long drive home. As memories bubbled up in the introspective time after a long trip, many questions surfaced. Had we ascended too quickly? We camped at 6400’ the night before the trip then at 10,800’ the first night out and 11,200’ the second night. I’ve certainly followed this pattern before without any problems. Planning for a slower ascent or lower campsites may have been safer. Should I have screened the group better? I screen my Sierra Club group members before accepting them on trips, but didn’t do this for someone I knew well. Jeff had actually had bad headaches at elevation before which I didn’t know about. Was there anything else I could have done once Jeff got sick? Here I feel that I should have advised Jeff to start Diamox earlier and continue it even when he got really sick. It might have kept the problem from getting worse or helped it resolve sooner. Should I have chosen a different way out? Certainly if Jeff had been sicker, descending Cartridge Creek would have been a better option. Here the best immediate medical response for an individual would have made the group overdue at least a day and necessitated begging for a 100 mile ride. It was more risky to go cross country, away from other hikers that could have helped and into a rough trail-less area but it was the only option that preserved a self rescue.

Mountains are unconcerned with the processes of man. Every step and every storm gives us immediate and impartial feedback on the consequences of our actions. The simple and pure experience can not but result in faith that the actions of our everyday life also make sense and have meaning. Time spent in the mountains represents a smaller portion of life but the clarity an attentive visit can provide casts a reassuring light on the larger but fragmented life we otherwise live. We must approach the mountains fully responsible for ourselves and fully accepting of the consequences of our actions. If we succeed we grow and become part of their slow and permanent glory. If we fail we retreat into a smaller portion of a more diffuse life.

First Aid: Ultralight Style

The rule “if you don’t use it take it out of your pack” just doesn’t apply to first aid kits. How do you design a light first aid kit without compromising safety? Start by sizing your kit for your group and trip length. No need to take eight days of a medication if you’re only going to be out for a weekend. Make sure only one person takes the “industrial strength” kit so the weight isn’t duplicated. However everyone should have the basics or they’re less likely to use them early when they can do the most good. An individual should also bring any specific medications they need such as an Epi-pen if they’ve experienced severe sting/food allergies. Don’t forget personal prescriptions. Next consider the specifics of your trip. If you’re not going above 8000’ you probably won’t need altitude sickness medications. Plan your kit for the common problems you’ll encounter. Blisters rank among the most common and can become dangerous if infected. It’s important to take a good variety of dressings and tapes to treat them. Sprains and cuts are also common. A small array of bandages (including steri-strips) are important. Finally know how you can improvise and what “non-medical” treatments work (like descent for the altitude illnesses) so you don’t have to carry everything you might remotely need. Splints can be made with sticks, rope, and torn clothing. Ripped cloth can be used as gauze for large wounds if first sterilized by boiling or soaking in a dilute iodine, bleach, or Aqua Mira solution. Large volumes of water rinse wounds and a dilute water purification solution can replace a specific disinfectant.

Altitude Illnesses:

Acute Mountain Sickness—Headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, malaise, poor sleep. Usually occurs 24-48 hours after a too rapid ascent. Worsened by exertion, best treated by dropping 2000’ and ascending more slowly. Can use Diamox 125mg twice daily for 5 days prior if prone, 250mg twice daily once it develops.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema—Shortness of breath often with audible rales (crackling sound like crumpling paper), blue color (in severe cases) best treated by RAPID descent. This is an emergency!! Can use Nifedipine if available.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema—Headache, confusion, hallucinations, incoordination best treated by !RAPID! descent. This is an even more severe emergency. Can also use Decadron if available.

High Altitude Flatus—The tendency for passing increased bowel gas at high elevation is generally not a serious medical problem except in markedly anal retentive ultralighters. Tentmates may become short of breath and turn blue in more severe cases. Tarps minimize this effect and are recommended as a preventative.

First Aid Kit: My 6.2 oz of protection

Wound closure

4 circular/4 standard cloth type “Band-Aids”

2 small/2medium Compeed patches

2 packages of Steri-strips

Blister Tape—Leukotape P sports tape or Kinesio waterproof (Sticks better than Duct tape and breathes)

Small roll of sports tape

2 safety pins

small bottle of benzoin

Medications (Rx=need prescription*)

10 Aleve (12 hour duration anti-inflammatory)

10 Benedryl—sleep aid, allergic reaction

6 Tums—indigestion, reflux

6 Imodium—diarrhea

4 Vicodin (Rx)—severe pain

6 Diamox 250mg (Rx)—altitude illness

6 Doxycycline 500mg (Rx)—broad spectrum antibiotic

4 Hydroxyzine (Rx)—sedative/pain

4 Decadron (Rx)—allergic reaction, altitude sickness

2 small foil pouch topical antibiotic

*Your personal physicians may be willing to prescribe small quantities of many of these medications for trip use. Make sure you know how to use them before you go. Write down directions and seal them in a waterproof bag. Keep track of expiration dates. If you’re not sure of what you are treating, DON’T.


25 Iodine pills—antiseptic, emergency water purification

Water/windproof matches, firestarter

2 needles in small insulate piece, wrapped with 10 years heavy thread

mini-photon light with locking on switch on elastic wrist strap

Other—stored elsewhere

Tweezers/scissors/knife on smallest Swiss army knife

Everything is stored in a waterproof ziplock bag(s) for easy visualization/access. Keep iodine away from anything metal—best to store with bandages.

High Sierra Route Record, August 2005

Sierra High Route

The Timberline or Sierra High Route is a 195 mile route scouted by Steve Roper and described in his book Timberline Country. It roughly parallels the John Muir Trail, but in contrast largely remains above timberline and consists of about half cross country travel. It has 60,000’ of elevation gain, nearly 50% more than the similar length John Muir Trail. It crosses 32 passes all but three of which are un-marred by a trail. To hike it requires the ability to negotiate class II/III cross country and absolute confidence in navigation and route finding. Steve Roper’s book divides it into five sections and suggests that each section would be best tackled over a week. I was looking for a little tougher challenge and have set aside nine days. Not that I wanted it to be miserable: I wanted a trip tough enough to challenge my physical prowess but easy enough to enjoy. I wanted intensity and a small portion of desperation but I also wanted time for celebration and quiet respect. I wanted to walk a line between full exertion, full alertness, and full exhaustion. In short, I wanted to be fully alive. When it was done I wanted to bring some measure of this type of living back to my everyday life.

With every “project” backpack trip I like to understand the experience I’m looking for before I leave. Before I left for the John Muir Trail in 2004 I was committed at all costs to speed. I wanted to set the record and knew there would be misery involved and no time to stop and enjoy. That’s not what I’m looking for on this trip. I want a trip that will be physically demanding but I want more than a pure physical challenge. I want time to contemplate the more spiritual elements of the alpine zone.

Why do I backpack? It’s to experience a way of living generally unavailable today. Our lives are so cooperative and specialized it’s hard to see the results of your actions and decisions. In days gone by it seems that people were more directly affected by their day to day actions. If they planted and the weather cooperated, they ate. If they cut wood and kept it dry, they stayed warm through the winter. Backpacking lets me see the results of my decisions and preparation. Every decision before and during the trip has consequences that reverberate throughout the trip. Every step can bring you closer to your goal or result in a twisted ankle. The feedback is immediate. Lightweight travel amplifies the importance of each decision and places a premium on things you can’t carry in a pack: experience, imporvisation, and knowledge.

Friday August 19, 2005 2pm

My GoLite Speed pack modified for lighter weight sat by my door. Inside was a home made tarp and bivy sack, a 13 oz Nunatak sleeping bag, and assorted personal items. Carbon fiber hiking poles and a matching bear canister filled with 6 days of food sat beside my pack. A pair of Montrail Hurricane Ridge runners sat on my bear canister. I had carefully chosen my gear for the conditions I was likely to encounter and kept the base weight to 7 pounds. With the required 2 pound bear canister, 6 days of food, and 4 pounds of water I would start hiking with a 25 pound pack.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I woke at 5:50am with the first light and left our bandit camp by Mammoth at 6:30am after breakfast. Dad drove me to the Taboose Pass trailhead and I started hiking at 8:35am. While the route “officially” starts at Cedar Grove I started at Taboose because of transportation. It’s a long drive to either trailhead, but my father, sister, brother-in-law, and niece had a backpack trip planned on the eastern Sierra and could drive me to Taboose Pass. This shortened the trip by about 6 miles and 3000’ gross elevation gain. I would have liked to do the whole route, but I didn’t feel too cheated. I led a trip the previous summer from Cedar Grove along Steve Roper’s “official” route to where I intersected it in the upper Cartridge Basin on this trip.

It was already 91F when I left the trailhead and there was no breeze chattering the branches of the desert scrub or cooling me. The trail sits in a desert filled with sage, sand, and lava. Taboose Creek gives a curving line of more varied and verdant life as it spills onto the desert. Then it’s sucked up by the Los Angeles/Owen’s Valley water project and the extra life provided by the creek is gone. The trail went up in fits and starts like an old rollercoaster and I was excited wondering what the ride would be like. The canyon walls were steep, and fresh crushed aspen and pine gave evidence for the power of the season’s avalanches.

A solitary juniper appeared and introduced me to his neighbor a Jeffrey Pine. A small grove of red fir appeared adding their sweet and pungent smell. A single leaf pinion faded into the distance as I climbed. Finally I moved from the heat of the south facing slope to the cooler shade of the north exposure and its’ red fir forest. Huge ramparts of granite appeared to block the way, but the trail dodged right following the creek as it sliced between the steep walls. As I rounded the corner, a steep 200’ cascade appeared and the smell of willows was in the air which had cooled to 75F by the breeze. After only two hours I already had a painful heel blister. It was still a very long way to Twin Lakes.

As I continued to gain elevation, the trees showed evidence of the many tough winters they’ve faced. Many of the trees had been bent by the snow or topped by an avalanche. Their branches were thin and many on the windward side were dead. I share an empathy with the struggles of high alpine trees. Sometimes when I’m having a tough day I pause and my mind pulls up the image of a specific tree at a specific place, adds snow, an icy wind, and imagines the toughness required just to survive. This resolute image strengthens my determination and makes my difficulties disappear.

I continued to climb past small streamside willow, purple heather, and the occasional grassy meadow. Up I continued past where roots can grasp hold of a meager living but a full life. Here life is simpler, containing only rock, air, and snow. Soon the raucous call of a Clark’s Nutcracker welcomed me to the top of Taboose Pass.

The trail from Taboose Pass to Cartridge Pass follows the early route of the John Muir Trail before Mather Pass was carved into the granite ridge separating the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River. It was abandoned many years ago and is so over grown that I chose a cross country route across a steep talus field. This route turned out to be more difficult than what I was trying to avoid. I stopped by a small side stream 800’ above the Fork of the Kings for a drink and snack. The view was so expansive I couldn’t capture it in a picture. I sat on a sheet of granite with a stream cascading by. Across the canyon I could see the Bench Lake plateau and Mts. Ickes and Pinchot. The stream was surrounded by small willows, grass, and a riotous assortment of purple lupine, purple and white mint flowers, yellow marigolds, and blue asters. A golden eagle soared by just below eye level. Only the gush of the stream and a distant wind broke the silence.

My day became tougher from here. My late starting time means my planned 12 hour day will end at 8:30—in the dark. In the Lakes Basin I almost stopped at 6:30pm on a sheltered wooded ledge. However, feelings of loneliness drove me on over Frozen Lake Pass. My campsite just south of Mather Pass was very close to where my wife Carol and I stayed over 10 years ago. While the day started as a balanced day it turned into an athletic push. I hoped tomorrow would be easier. I wished for more company than the babbling stream and the full moon.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The meadows of the upper Mather Basin were covered with frost in the morning. The moon had just crossed Frozen Lakes Pass for its day of sleep when I awoke and I started hiking just as the sun hit the tip of Vennacher Needle. The south side of Mather Pass was in the sun, but after crossing the pass I was in cold morning shade nearly all the way to Palisade Lakes. What a valley! The lakes are filled from numerous small streams that pour in from all sides. There are small stands of whitebark pine and so many flowers it felt like spring despite my late summer date. The few mosquitoes were mostly blown away by a light breeze. After six miles on the John Muir Trail it was time for cross country travel again. I ascended the steep but technically easy climb up Cirque Pass where shooting stars decorated the meadows. Small cascades gushed exuberantly over rocks and through their crevices. It took 40 minutes to cross to Potluck Pass where the view of the Palisade Group was nothing but grand. Their solid grey spires slashed with random stripes of white rock and snow were a cause for celebration.

Crossing from Potluck to Knapsack Pass involved picking routes through multiple short cliff bands that were invisible until I was on top of them. I often had to backtrack 100’ to go forward 200’. My route was interrupted by a lakeside cliff on the south shore of Barrett Lake but I decided to wade across instead of climbing around. Water always looks shallower than it is. My wade was waist deep and my log book and a topo map got wet before I had finished crossing. The five hours it took to get from Palisade Lake to the Bishop Pass Trail began to feel like unpleasant work. The descent into LeConte Canyon took a hot hour but minor thunderheads helped cool the ascent of Muir Pass through this glacially carved canyon. There were stands of hemlock, whitebark, and lodgepole each with their distinct aroma. I predicted a late crossing of Muir Pass and was proved correct at 7:20pm when I arrived. The last of the day’s sun faded from the Muir Hut as I descend to the outlet of Wanda Lake for the night. I hoped for an easier tomorrow as I cooked dinner by headlamp.

Monday, August 22, 2005

It was perfectly still across Wanda Lake when I got up and the reflections of Mts. Huxley and Warlow were hard to distinguish from their originals. The descent to Evolution Lake was an adventure in gentle meadows surrounded by the most rugged and desolate mountains of granite with chiseled rubble from their formation still filling the canyons at their feet. It was cold with only the promise of warmth as the sun lit the tips of these stone statues. I had breakfast overlooking the glacially carved Evolution Canyon. Glaciers, despite their power to shape, were turned by more solid rock several times as they descended this canyon.

I continued across the relatively level ledges of the Darwin Bench and descended into the first of its lakes. Copse after copse of welcoming whitebark pine greeted me on the way. As I sat by the small lake, the distant caw of a Clark’s Nutcracker and the close up chirps of Juncos complemented the streams’ quiet gurgle as it strained through numerous dark boulders. A curious Junco fluttered just behind me and scolded me for being too close to her nest. It was warm, still, and intimate.

So carefree was my mood that I just about missed Snow Tongue Pass and descended into Paine and Packsaddle Lakes before looking more carefully at the map and realizing that the lake below couldn’t possibly be any of the Wahoo Lakes. I turned on my GPS which informed me I was ¼ mile away: at least if I could fly. The descent to the real Wahoo Lakes wasn’t as bad as advertised as I enjoy hopping along the top of car sized boulders.

From a distance all wilderness looks forbidding. Looking across Humphrey’s Basin, barren rock and scraggly trees is all that is apparent. However when you get closer, a myriad of comfortable and inviting features beckon. My lunch meadow perched above Wahoo Lakes was one of these small paradises. It was a small meadow with a view of Wahoo Lakes, a trickling stream with a dry grassy edge, and a sloped and smooth granite boulder to lean against.

French Canyon was full of mosquitoes and I delayed my afternoon snack until Marion Lake to avoid them. I continued on to the top of Feather Pass at 6:50pm. Feather Pass derives its name from Feather Peak which has such abrupt thin flakes of granite they look like feathers stuck in the ridge. On the descent I broke a pole over a square granite boulder when it plunged deep in the snow and I lost my balance. The soft snow allowed rapid travel and I arrived at Bearpaw Lake only 30 minutes later for my earliest camp. I celebrated with freeze dried blueberries and a hot cup of tea. No moon was out as I went to bed and the Milky Way dominated the sky as it never can in the city.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I started again at 6:30am and hiked over White Bear Pass after greeting a group of four climbers on a bench above Black Bear Lake. I was so focused on the route down to Brown Bear Lake that I forgot to leave my standard marker on the pass. On every pass and trail crossing of this trip, I left four rocks in a square with a smaller fifth rock with my initials, date, and time upside down on the flattest of the other four. Traveling alone is more risky than with a group but I had decided against carrying a satellite phone or personal locator beaconIt might save my life and at worst my wife would take comfort knowing how I met my end. For safety, I also introduced myself and my itinerary to hikers I met.

By my 8:30am breakfast at Lake Italy it was so warm in the still sunshine I took a swim and cleaned up. The sandy bottom deepened slowly and a trickle of water from a side stream provided breakfast water and refreshed my bath. I splurged and enjoyed a cooked breakfast of cream of wheat, raisins, and brown sugar. From Lake Italy the ascent of Gabot Pass was via an easy chute of granite sidewalks and grassy ramps. From Gabot Pass there was nearly 4000’ of descent to Mono Creek, much of it on a trail so poor a deer would be ashamed to claim it. I lunched by Mono Creek and purified my water for the first time on the trip when I was reminded of the upstream trail access by the poorly covered toilet paper just 10’ from the stream. I spent my time whittling a 4” piece of manzanita into a splint for my pole which I crammed into the fractured ends and secured with tape. It was a fix that remained strong for the rest of my trip.

The ascent of the Laurel Lake “trail” was hot and steep. It was a trail in the old school. This meant a cut through the brush leading straight up the ridge. There were a few squiggles thrown in as a harbinger of the switchback which hadn’t yet been invented. Roots and sticks fell across the trail in an “X” pattern as if warning me not to proceed. I turned on my altimeter to serve as coach. The climb from Laurel Lake to Bighorn Pass was also steep! There was 1000’ to be gained in only 0.6 miles. I won every step with a breath and made pole plants over my head. The footing was excellent on heather and grass. The view of Red-and-White Mountain to the north is one of the most spectacular in the Sierra.

The descent of Shout of Relief Pass just north of Bighorn Pass gave me ample time practicing all of my poling techniques. I carry them when running on easy downhill. I also carry them over large talus. On steep downhill with good pole plants such as grass or sand I palm the butt of the pole and double pole. If it’s slightly less steep I use each pole independently kicking each out and planting it in turn to provide stability and braking. On steep uphill I grab the knob at the base of the grip with my thumb and index finger to shorten them a bit. If it is really steep I grab lower on the actual pole shaft. I find poles most helpful on steep uphill and they got a workout in the 1000’ ascent through soft volcanic soil from Tully Hole to Virginia Lake. I arrived at 8pm wishing I had an extra hour of light to enjoy. Still the alpenglow on the close cliffs and distant peaks of the Silver Divide provided a good show. Then the stars came out for an after dinner light display. I spent extra time looking up at the sky after I went to bed. I decided not to use a tarp and rolled out my insolite and bivy sack in soft needle duff under a grove of Whitebark pine. I wondered if sleeping under pines would influence my dreams.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I got an early start today but the John Muir Trail was a shock. After hiking across talus, meadows, and solid granite for days, the dust and loose rock was a punishing surface. Mix in ground up horse shit and it was a very unappealing dish. This is one of the most heavily traveled and worst sections of the John Muir Trail. After arriving at Duck Lake and despite the steepness, it was a relief to be heading cross country again toward Mammoth Pass via Deer Lake Pass. Here the whitebark pine grows in thickets almost willow like in their ability to thwart the traveler. Although I have a keen eye for cross country travel I ascend greedily and am slow to give up elevation even when a lower route may be easier. Here an easier route was to be found lower on the ridge. I rebated my hard earned gains to the elevation god and descended to Deer Lake for breakfast. Now the siren song of a hamburger lunch at Red’s Meadow sang loud and clear.

After a satisfying lunch and a natural hot spring shower I left Red’s Meadow heading to the steep but beautiful Nancy’s Pass. From Nancy’s Pass I descended to camp in a balcony below the Minaret’s crest formed by a solid formation the glaciers were unable to move. I was close to a rushing stream whose sound filled the valley with pleasant music. The sounds of the stream were overshadowed every few minutes by a massive crescendo of wind that strained through the grove of Hemlocks in which I was nestled. The wind then faded leaving me to enjoy the music of the stream before returning again and again with its great force.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Early sunshine this morning put me in a Sunday mood. Since I was ahead of schedule I meandered slowly through the Minarets. I hiked from Minaret Lake to Cecile Lake where I had a spectacular breakfast and tea. The peaceful Cecile Lake is surrounded by Ken, Kehrlein, and Pridham Minarets to the south and the sinister Iceberg Lake to the north far below. Iceberg Lake appeared even more sinister to me because it was still filled with icebergs and the whole basin appeared filled with snow. Normally I like traveling over snow, but at 9 am the snow was ice hard and the sun wouldn’t hit it for 2-3 more hours. This had the potential to be the most dangerous part of the trip. A small scar on my hand, the result of my father knocking loose a softball sized rock as he ascended this pass above me when I was eight, reminded me of the slope’s steepness. I hoped for better luck.

Luck I had. The “trailed” portion of the descent was snow free and the traverse above Iceberg Lake, while over icy snow, had enough of a use trail that with poles it was just passable. I planted both of my poles before I took the next step. After finishing with the snow, I again began to feel lazy crossing above Lake Ediza. The contrasts between the rugged volcanic minarets, Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak and the gentle meadows with meandering streams and heather couldn’t have been more complete. I was with the meadows.

After crossing Glacier Lakes Pass, the descent to the first of the Twin Island Lakes was a route finding challenge. Cliffs dropped off to the left and only one route appeared passable. Even at lake level it was tough to get to the outlet. I had to climb over a rounded dome and descend a talus gully. In the heat the wade across the outlet stream was refreshing and a good chance to wash my pants. The trip from upper Twin Islands Lake to Blue Lakes Canyon continued the navigational challenges. Endless cliffs and canyons each only 40’-200’ deep didn’t show up on my topographic map but certainly slowed my progress. I felt a great sense of relief after crossing the spur guarding a safe and easy descent into Blue Lakes Canyon. At 6pm I had only Blue Lakes Pass to cross before entering Yosemite for the night. I had a quick snack to fuel up which was accompanied by a hoarse sounding coyote’s barking. Blue Canyon is beautiful—a miniature and unspoiled Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne. The minarets are seen to the east, the Silver and Mono divides to the southeast. Better yet, I was back into Yosemite granite. The Reverend Thomas Starr King summarized his feelings about granite in 1860: “Great is granite and the Yo-semite is its’ prophet!” Granite was a lot easier to travel over as well as being clean and beautiful.

I camped just below a small ridge coddled in a small granite basin with a comfortable backrest. As I cooked dinner the Clark range across the canyon accented by the sunset provided the evening’s entertainment. The sunset slowly changed the sky from yellow and orange to red, progressively deeper shades of purple, and finally black. I slept with a family of whitebark pines with a soft mattress of needles. One of the smaller pines playfully explored my bivy sack with a low branch whenever the wind blew.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I woke at 6am and finished the last cross country mile to the Tuolumne Meadows Trail. I forded the Lyell Fork of the Merced in the cool morning shadows and headed as quickly as I could toward Tuolumne Meadows with visions of another shower and a chicken quesadilla in my head. The 22 trail miles from camp to Tuolumne Meadows wrapped up in 8 hours. It was a long and focused push which strangled much of the beauty. The Tuolumne Meadows area is a place that’s better to slow down and enjoy.

The lodge cafeteria was closed for lunch but I did have a shower. I called Carol and talked to each of our three children. I found it unsettling how home routines continued without me and how the mundane details of life seemed to overshadow life itself. Yet somehow the haircuts, the new teachers, and the daily discipline reflected the bigger principles of life. I knew it was time to resolve the metaphor I was living into my everyday reality.

Beyond the noise of Tioga Road the contrasts of my normal life and the life I was living here came into greater focus. In the mountains I am at my best. I have more commitment and identity in running and backpacking than in any other part of my life. I can do things that most people wouldn’t consider possible. This trip has been a perfect fit for my skills and fitness. At home I feel average by comparison and impotent in my ability to make a difference. I can’t solve the problems of a chaotic and confusing world. I can’t even help many of the patients I see. And yet I can’t live here forever.

In two days more I knew I’d be going home. I wondered where my home really was. Whether it was hiking 14 hour days over rough passes or teaching my family about honesty, commitment, and compassion? Whether it was crossing rocky passes or taking care of patients that current technology can only help so much? Deep inside I knew that I had to return and somehow I bring the lessons I’d learned on this trip back to my everyday life. As I left the mixed forest and emerged into Gaylor Lakes’ grassy basin my mood lifted. I felt stronger and ready to return home.

After crossing Mine Shaft Pass I again had to pick my route carefully among volcanic chutes, ledges, and cliffs. I arrived at Spuller Lake exhausted. I again had the fortune to find a friendly family of whitebark pines who invited me in for the night. I slept well; it had been a tough day.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It was just too spectacular. I was sitting on top of the East Ridge Conness Pass above the spur that bypasses the cliffs that surround me. The air was so still a dandelion seed wouldn’t have blown out of my open hand. The loudest sound was the pervasive quiet, but there was the distant roar of Conness Creek and Falls which also echoed from the cliffs behind me. I was on a solid granite and feldspar ridge; white, solid, and clean. Across the valley was granite North Peak and just to the east the brown/red volcanic rock of Black Mountain and Mt. Scowden began. The divide between the rock types couldn’t be sharper. Mt. Conness whose glacier is behind me is responsible for the silt that makes the upper Conness Lake milky. Patches of snow dotted the valley and the glacier seemed shrunken from what I remember. It was quiet, distant, and expansive. A cooked breakfast had cooled and my quart of Tang was already half gone when I adjusted the maps for the last time. I knew that it was my last day and that I would soon be going home. I started sobbing at the thought of going home and wasn’t sure if it was from sadness, happiness, relief, or some of each. I knew I was ready to go home.

Sky Pilot Col wasn’t pastoral though. The col divides the white granite from the red/black basalt with a line straight down the middle. These rocks don’t like each other and the results of their battles are the splinters and chunks of rocks that lay like fallen soldiers down the sides of the pass. Yellow cinquefoil flowers greeted me as I crossed the Sky Pilot Col, but there were none of the “Sky Pilots” for which this pass is named.

I had lunch at the grassy outlet of Shepard Lake while watching Water Pipits glean the shore and Yellow-Rumped Warblers lunch in the air catching moths with acrobatic flying. With only six hours separating me from Twin Lakes I contemplated my options. If I hiked out I could have a good meal, a shower, and clean my clothes. But I would be in a noisy and dusty campground. If I stayed, I could have one more night to say good-bye to the mountains. Either way my father wouldn’t pick me up until noon Sunday. I decided to stay because I enjoyed sitting lazily in the soft grass by the lake and watching the birds. I didn’t have to worry about being somewhere, sometime. I spent over an hour enjoying lunch.

The trip across Virginia Canyon from Shepard to Soldier Lakes took two hours. I followed deer trails across the avalanche debris then moved onto wonderful granite slabs—first in the creek, then in the whole cirque. I passed a stand of Whitebark Pine above Soldier Lake and continued my ascent toward Stanton Pass. The descent from Stanton Pass seemed the most technical of the trip. Perhaps I was just worried about getting hurt this close to the finish.

I camped 1000 vertical feet north of Horse Creek Pass. I would have preferred camping on the south side as the view is nicer, the terrain more gentle, and I would have had more time to relax. However, I was concerned about the snow refreezing overnight in a steep chute on the north side of the pass I would descend in the morning. I probably could have taken a slower and riskier route to avoid the snow, but I was glad I hiked on. I paid my respects as I descended below 10,000’ knowing I would return in just a few days this time in the Kaweah range with friends. I had one more night sleeping in the shelter of whitebark pines and listening to the gushing of Horse Creek. I knew I’d be happy to finish in the morning, have a big breakfast at the cafĂ©, and prepare to return home.

This version of the Sierra High Route was much harder than I expected. My time on trail was 13-14 hours each day; dawn to dusk. I never finished a meal without needing a headlamp. I started cooking my dinner with one several times. The Sierra High Route is rugged. It’s not technically difficult but the multiple passes and rock hopping were hard on my body. A trip of 10-12 days preferably with company would have made it more relaxed and enjoyable for me. On this schedule I would have had an extra 3-4 hours each day to nap in a meadow, linger at an overlook, and explore some of the peaks I passed so quickly. For others a longer time would probably be required to make the trip enjoyable. I found it difficult to balance the athletic requirements of my selected pace with a full appreciation of my surroundings. Despite the unexpected difficulty, the tone I set prior to the trip and the short breaks I was able to take helped me have both a physical challenge and a spiritual one. Now that I’m done I’m ready to return to my normal life and face its challenges. I can see the reflection of the mountains’ resolute strength clearly reflected in my everyday life.